If no elections are held in 2023 for any reason, the ruling party Awami League will continue to be in power and wouldn't complain of course. An election for its own sake is not fun surely. It's more fun to be in power even if it means the diminished value of the 2018 elections than to compete in any uncertainty.

Elections are of course needed for legitimacy and credibility, etc. But given the scenario, local and global, this may not be the most pressing factor now in Bangladesh. Internationally, the world has many other worries on its mind then pushing the cause for electoral democracy in Bangladesh. For a while, when the US sanctions were imposed on RAB, many in the opposition held hope. There was excitement in the electoral and political air but since the Russo-Ukraine war, that is not the most important issue of the US agenda in Bangladesh.

The opposition of course wants to regain/ gain power but they have declared they have no interest in an election under the existing conditions and regime. That means no elections with AL in power. And AL has said that the scope for an NCT model supervised election is constitutionally gone. No such combo as long as AL is in power.

BNP's response has been to state that it is not considering an election under an AL government anyway so the question of negotiations and discussion with the AL are not relevant. It wants to launch a mass movement and bring down the AL government and form a national unity government which shall supervise the new elections.

Clearly, the two political positions are so poles apart on the election scenario they seek and it's not reconcilable. Hence, BNP is trying to mobilize a mass movement and AL is trying to make sure it doesn't take off. Elections are therefore not in the hands of electoral parties, but more in the agitation and counter agitation space. So it's hardly what one would call an "election in the air" feeling all around.

Enter the EC

The process of hiring the EC chief and members has always met with skepticism and it has not yet gained much credibility. The previous EC seemed to have had some energy if not credibility but this EC is a more demure one and seems a nice but helpless type. On top of that the EC Chief is a trifle more talkative than the usual EC chiefs.

The EC has in fact admitted that on its own, it doesn't have the capacity to hold fair elections and sought everyone's support. This sounds fine but has been interpreted by most that it's an admission of its lack of its capacity and clout. As stated before, the EC chief does chat which is nice but it often has an unintended impact.

However, the biggest damage was the Cumilla Municipality elections and the Bahar episode. Not only did the EC fail to impose its will but its orders, requests and so forth were ignored by the person concerned. Worse, Bahar reportedly filed a writ against the EC's right to ask him to leave the area. When the EC later denied having sent a missive to this effect, the clout factor was put under a severe test.

There are many other instances but given the political world's dismay with the EC and limited level of public interest in elections given the current situation , it will be a major task just to convince everyone that elections are part of the political system and must be kept going.

Is the system election-friendly?

Does Bangladesh have a decent history of elections in the last 75 years under Pakistan and independence? Elections have not bred results even if they have been held. The election of 1954 was historic because it heralded the death knell of Pakistan politics in East Pakistan but the UF government was in power for only a few months before being dismissed by the Centre. Resentment built up against Pakistan and the indirect Presidential elections of 1965 showed that feeling but it changed nothing.

It was the street agitation of 1968- 69 that brought down the Pakistan regime and ushered in the election of 1970. In this election AL swept the polls but that didn't deliver. The Pakistan army cracked down, refusing to hand over power to the electoral winners and war began. The war delivered, not the election.

Many people view the elections of 1991, 1996 and 2001 as excellent elections but the system stumbled in 2007- after just 17 years, leading to '1/11'- the date that lasted two years, under the 'Moeenu-Fakhru' administration that clearly wasn't meant to last. Soon the system was scrapped. Most agree the shine on elections was dimmed after that and electoral problems have never been resolved. As of now, 2023 doesn't look very hot either.

BNP will want to topple AL and AL will want to crush them but the inevitable fact is that elections have little chance of being happily held. Our history and our elections don't make a happy couple.

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